Black Panther Hoax Pt. 2 (Unusual Suspects)

Black panthers are the most controversial felid topic in North America.

As noted in part 1 of this series there is no such species recognized as “black panther” anywhere on the planet much less in the United States of America.

The “black panthers” seen in zoos, wildlife demonstrations and in media are melanistic (black) leopards and jaguars. They are anomalies within these species and not a separate one altogether.

So, what are people seeing? There is no doubt there are many, many reports.

The late Don Zaidle who wrote extensively on man-eating animals was doing some research on wild cats and suggested 16 years ago I look at the jaguarundi as a possible “black panther” suspect. Shortly after I actually saw one of these cats north of their accepted range and it sort of clicked that people could be seeing them and labeling “black panther”.

After all, virtually no one outside of hardcore wildlife fans even knows that jaguarundi exists so “black panther” is an easy tag to give them.

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Jaguarundi photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

I started writing on jaguarundis being a possible “black panther” back in 2002 with an article at The Anomalist.

Jaguarundis are known to range from South America to the Mexican borders of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The key word here is “known”. That means scientists have observed or captured the species within those areas, however they are reported to range much farther north in the Lone Star State and perhaps elsewhere.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials solicited information from the public and received numerous reports of the species in the 1960s, including several sightings from central and east Texas. Additional sightings were reported from as far away as Florida, Oklahoma, and Colorado

In a study conducted in 1984, TPWD biologists noted a string of unconfirmed jaguarundi sightings in Brazoria County, which corners the hugely populated areas of both Houston and Galveston.

Brazoria County is more than 200 miles north of the counties of Cameron and Willacy, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has designated as being the only confirmed areas of Texas that houses jaguarundis.

I saw mine in Jefferson County which is 300 miles north of their accepted range and have fielded multiple reliable reports from the region-even one from a wildlife biologist.

There are some black panther reports howefer that do not fit the mold of the jaguarundi.

The aforementioned jaguar is a potential candidate because they exhibit melanism and once ranged into Louisiana to the east and California to the west with some accounts as far north as Oklahoma before being considered eliminated in the United States.

Jaguars in the last 15 years have been proven to move in and out of New Mexico and Arizona although the last known American-traveling jaguar was killed in Mexico.

I have gathered several alleged jaguar sightings from Texas along the Rio Grande River region and into the Trans-Pecos. These sightings are under investigation but unlike New Mexico and Arizona there are no official trail camera programs attempting to study any possible movements into Texas. The Trans-Pecos is a huge area and is vastly uninhabited so it is possible there are jaguars touching Texas soil no one has seen.

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Melanistic jaguar photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In terms of anecdotal evidence, I now have three specific reports that after interviewing eyewitnesses lead me to believe they possibly could have seen a jaguar. Two are in Texas and on is in Louisiana. Two of those are standard colored jaguars and the other is melanistic.

It is unlikely that all black panther reports are melanistic jaguars. In fact none of the alleged panther videos or photos I have seen even look like jaguars so that eliminates them as the top suspect in these cases although the jury is out on a few accounts I have investigated.

Another possible source is melanistic bobcats. Bobcats have been documented to produce melanistic offspring and I know for a fact many people cannot judge their size.

In the last 12 months I have examined more than a dozen game camera photos sent by readers who thought they had captured a cougar but had really gotten a large bobcat or in a couple of cases one with an extra long tail.

That’s no slight on the people sending the photos. Unless you deal with these animals it can be hard to gauge.

If people are thinking standard bobcats are cougars could some of the melanistic ones be called black panthers?

It is possible.

I believe the answer to this mystery does not fall with a solitary species but several and I believe the bulk of reports come from a source I will write on the third installment that has some pretty compelling evidence.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Presence of Two Pink Dolphins Proven in Louisiana (Video)

Southwest Louisiana–A pink Atlantic bottlenose dolphin has stolen hearts and been the subject of many social media discussions along the Gulf Coast dating back to the mid 2000s.

I have personally shot still photos of the creature and captured it on video along with writing about it here at The Wildlife Journalist®.

You can see a video captured by a reader in 2016 in the Gulf off of Louisiana here.

You can view my 2013 video filmed in the ship channel near Cameron, La. (Lake Calcasieu area) here.

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This is the pink dolphin the author photographed in Lake Calcasieu in 2010.

A recent ground-breaking video captured by Capt. Thomas Adams gives proof of what many have suspected-there is more than one pink dolphin in the area.

On Aug. 17 he captured two pink dolphins jumping in front of a ship in the Calcasieu Ship Channel.

Capt. Adams has been gracious enough to allow us to use the video here.

There have been rumors of multiple pink dolphins in the Calcasieu system but this is the first concrete proof I have seen.

According to Heidi Whitehead with the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, at least one pink dolphin has been observed for more than a decade.

We initially began receiving reports of the “pink” bottlenose in Calcasieu in 2007 and we worked with NOAA to educate people and reduce vessel traffic around the animal for the protection of the animal because there were so many wanting to get out to see it.  There was also a pink dolphin observed in the Houston ship channel near Bolivar several years ago but it has not been confirmed whether or not this was a different animal than the Calcasieu one as we have seen evidence from our photo-ID work that dolphins travel between Galveston and Louisiana.

Whitehead earlier this year provided us with a fact sheet from NOAA on pink and white dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico and it includes accounts from other locations.

The first (report) was reported during the summer of 1994 in Little Lake near New Orleans, Louisiana. The all-white dolphin was spotted in a group of 4-5 individuals for 20 to 30 minutes and never seen again. In September 2003, another all white dolphin calf was first observed in a group of more than 40 dolphins south of Galveston, Texas. It was re-sighted several times in the same vicinity through August 2004 (Fertl et al., 1999; Fertl et al., 2004).

This is what NOAA has to say about “Pinky” from the Lake Calcasieu area.

Although the dolphin is often referred to as a “pink” dolphin because of its pink coloration, it is considered an albino. The dolphin’s mother is not albino and has the gray coloring typical of coastal bottlenose dolphins. Dolphin calves are typically born dark gray in color.

According to NOAA there have been “white” dolphin sightings along the eastern seaboard of the United States.

Other “white” dolphins have been sighted in the Southeast U.S. between 2012-2014, these include off the coast of South Carolina, NE Florida and Georgia, and in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

If you see a pink or white dolphin call the Southeast US Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-877-433-8299. They are interested in getting information on these unique animals.

Anomalies in nature matter because they raise awareness to the beauty and importance of wildlife and in this case also the forgotten sea called The Gulf of Mexico.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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Black Panther Hoax (Pt. 1-Cougars and Circus Trains)

A hoax has been perpetuated on American wildlife enthusiasts and it centers on the existence of the black panther.

There is no such species recognized as “black panther” anywhere on the planet much less in the United States of America.

The “black panthers” seen in zoos, wildlife demonstrations and in media are melanistic (black) leopards and jaguars. They are anomalies within these species and not a separate one altogether.

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A black jaguar. Not the spots which cannot be seen at certain angles. (US Fish and Wildlife Service Photo)

There is no large cat on the planet that is officially recognized as a “black panther”. The only ones that qualify are the aforementioned melanistic leopards and jaguars. And there are no black cougars.

Other than a grainy black and white photo from Costa Rica in the 1950s there has never been any real evidence of a black cougar (mountain lion, puma, panther) killed by a hunter, mounted by a taxidermist or born at wildlife facilities around the world. At least none that I have seen and I have investigated this phenomenon heavily for more than 20 years.

If melanistic cougars were the source of the thousands of black panther reports in America the sizable captive population would have already shown melanism. We have even verified an albino cougar born in Europe but melanism is not in the cards in my opinion.

Fellow investigator Todd Jurasek heard about a large black cat mounted at a restaurant in his home state of Oklahoma from researcher Glenn McDonald.

What he found is what he believes is a black cougar that had been dyed black.

“I saw on the hind parts what looked like areas where the dye didn’t take or is wearing off. It definitely looked like a cougar and didn’t have any spots like a melanistic jaguar or leopard would have,” he said.

unnamed-4.jpgAfter Todd checked it out and reported to his source,  McDonald  provided two links to taxidermists who have in recent years created “black panthers” from cougars to show that it has been done. I also found a couple.

You can check different versions here and here.

If this were a truly black cougar I would be ecstatic but I just don’t see it.

Cougars do come in a range of brown colors with some being an almost chocolate color. Such a cat seen in low light conditions could certainly appear as a black. Young cougars are darker in color than their parents and come with spots and on occasion they keep some spots and darker coloration into their first two years of life. These could also potentially be a source “black panther” reports.

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This cougar is a much darker shade of brown than many specimens. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

An extremely prolific theory is that many years ago a circus train crashed and black leopards escaped and gave birth to the black cats reported throughout the country. The problem is there would have to be a male and female. Then they would have to survive, produce young and those offspring survive.

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There was a circus train wreck in Gary, Indiana in 1918 but no black leopards were reported to have spawned from this tragedy. (Public Domain Photo)

Considering the bulk of a wild cat’s hunting skills are taught, this is not likely.

There is no way there are hundreds, if not thousands of black leopards running around the country due to a circus train crash. So far, all intensive re-wilding efforts of tigers have failed  so how could circus leopards escape, survive and create a nation-wide population?

Then again, I have heard about these crashes all over the place so maybe there was an epidemic of them and somehow no lions or tigers (or elephants) escaped and bred, only black leopards. (Sarcasm mode turned off.)

Let’s go ahead and scratch the circus train theory.

So, what are the cats people are reporting seeing around the country? We will investigate in the next installment with some interesting photographic evidence.

Until then check out my mini-podcast on the topic and ponder the following question.

If there is a black panther hoax who is perpetrating it?

Chester Moore, Jr.

Secret Rattlesnake Stockings? Plus The Texas “Lynx”

In a secret effort to replenish diminishing timber rattlesnake stocks, government officials have been stocking captive-bred specimens of the timber rattlesnake.

At least that’s the story that has been floating around East Texas for years.

It is unclear as to which agency is responsible but some reports indicate it could be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service while another rumor has it linked to a clandestine university project.

I say “story” but the truth is I have heard numerous tales of rattlesnake restoration efforts in the Pineywoods of East Texas. One gentleman even told me his uncle’s brother-in-law had some released next to his farm near Crockett. Hundreds of them.

Where did these stories originate?

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This photo of an East Texas timber rattler was submitted by Amber Deranger several years ago.

Well, rattlesnakes have technically been released into certain areas in the Pineywoods.

However, scientists did not breed them in captivity and they are not part of some secret restoration effort.

These released rattlesnakes are simply ones that were captured as part of a radio-telemetry study conducted by officials with the U.S. Forest Service. Timber rattlesnake were captured in the wild, fitted with radio transmitters and released back into the wild so researchers could track their movements.

There never has been a timber rattlesnake stocking program in Texas or anywhere else for that matter.

I first wrote on this topic and destroyed the myth of the rattlesnake stocking in 2006 when I spoke to TPWD biologist Ricky Maxey.

He said the rumors have been floating around since the 1990s.

“I used to work in the Big Thicket area out of Beaumont and we used to get questions about rattlesnake stockings frequently. And it seems the rumors are still pretty rampant,” Maxey said.

“Someone could have seen Forest Service officials capturing the snakes or releasing the ones fitted with transmitters and the rumor could have started there. It could be the case of a true story getting less and less truthful as it’s told,” he said.

This story is similar to another albeit slightly less widespread tale of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) releasing Canada lynx into the Pineywoods region. I first heard of these stockings taking place in the Livingston area but later heard they also occurred near Toledo Bend reservoir and in the Big Thicket National Preserve.

Occasionally people would see one of these “lynx”, which are allegedly much larger than a Texas bobcat.

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The only lynx in Texas is Lynx rufus, the bobcat. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

The problem is these stories are bogus. Totally bogus.

TPWD or any other agency for that matter have never stocked Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) into any destination in Texas and for that matter would have no reason to do so. They have never lived in the region and their very close cousin the bobcat (Lynx  rufus) is doing incredibly well here.

Bobcats can vary greatly in size as previously noted. Ear tuft length also varies among individuals. Most bobcats have short but some are comparable to those of their northern cousins.

Spot patterns also vary wildly with some having virtually no spots on the top half and others possessing well-defined spots. A few individuals have a unique pattern traits of spots within spots that look sort of like the rosettes of an ocelot or jaguar.

People seeing this somewhat unusual looking bobcats sometimes associate them with Canada lynx and at some point a stocking legend began. In a way that is a shame because, our very own “lynx” the bobcat, is an amazing cat.

Having these mysteries solved might ruin your favorite local legend but the fact is there really is no mystery. The rattlesnake stocking was not a stocking at all but re-release of a few snakes fitted with transmitters.

And the lynx story is false all the way.

Remember not everything you read on the Internet is true and tales told around the campfire tend to get taller with age.

Hear more details of the “lynx” stocking on this episode of The Wildlife Journalist® mini-podcast.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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Sea Turtle Release Touches Hearts (Video)

Port Aransas, TX—The smiles were even bigger than the waves.

As the white foam of breakers hit the beach, Lauren Scott and Reannah Hollaway were beaming.

The two recent high school graduates are best friends and share an equal love of sea turtles.

Reannah participated in our Wild Wishes® program last April getting to meet an injured Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and giant river otters at Moody Gardens in Galveston, TX. That facility rolled out the red carpet for her.

Wild Wishes® grants exotic animal encounters for children with terminal illness or loss of parent or sibling.

After her wish, Reannah informed me that her friend Lauren also loved sea turtles and had a dream of releasing one that had been rehabilitated.

As I began working on that project a series of events unfolded that I can only describe as divinely inspired.

The Amos Research Keep (ARK) at Port Aransas offered an opportunity for the girls to tour their facility and release two green sea turtles back into the Gulf. So, on Aug. 10 we paid them a visit.

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ARK’s Alicia Walker who hosted the visit shows the girls an injured baby hawksbill turtle.
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This big turtle was covered with barnacles and getting back a healthy appetite.
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Lauren was happy feeding green sea turtles fresh romaine. Unlike other sea turtles, greens are vegetarians which is they love the seagrass-thick habitat of South Texas.

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After learning much about the ARK’s inspiring work and seeing many sea turtles, the highlight of the day had arrived. It was time for the turtle release.

As I watched the girls put on their latex gloves and move the turtles out toward the water, I saw worries melt away. I saw that hint of anxiety that I have learned to pick up working with children facing loss and serious illnesses disappear. I saw two young girls being young girls and living that rare, surreal dream come true moment.

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You think those girls are happy or what?

When Lauren and Reannah lowered the turtles into the surf and watched them quickly swim away, a tangible feeling of freedom filled the air. It’s the kind of freedom ARK provides many sea turtles and injured shore birds but there was something else.

This event inspired two young ladies facing challenges in life to see that great things can happen-even the very biggest dreams coming true.

I want to thank Alicia and everyone with ARK who went far out of their way to accommodate this wish. And I want to thank everyone who supports the Wild Wishes® program.

You are helping young people in more ways than you know.

Lauren and Reannah will never forget the day they stepped into the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico and set free their favorite animals. And neither will I.

Those two young ladies will for the rest of their lives wonder where those turtles ended up and how their lives turned out. Those are the kind of thoughts that not only bring smiles but inspiration.

There are no guarantees but the turtles got a fighting chance and they got it because people cared.

Listen to the podcast inspired by this story below.

Chester Moore, Jr.

(To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page. To contact Chester Moore e-mail chester@chestermoore.com.)

Car-Sized Giant Catfish Below Dams?

“Did you know there are giant catfish below Toledo Bend dam?”

That was the question posed to me at a speaking engagement.

“And they are so big divers are afraid to go down there and look at the dam. They say they are the size of Volkswagens!”

This story has been told over and over and is considered absolute fact by many. I have heard it about Toledo Bend but also other lakes throughout the American South.

Here are a few points I would like to make about this legend that lives on due to photos circulating social media.

#I have been investigating these stories since 2005 and have never spoken with anyone who has actually seen these giant catfish. It is always their brother-in-laws cousin’s former roommate twice removed or something.

#The largest catfish in North America are the blue and flathead both of which live at Toledo Bend and other reservoirs in the South. They can attain weights of over 130 pounds and I have no doubt there are specimens quite a bit larger. In my opinion this legend began with a diver seeing an extra big catfish in murky water and then the story grew from there. A Volkswagen-sized catfish would weigh closer to a ton. Such fish don’t exist here in the United States.

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The author diving with “Splash” in 2005.

I actually got to dive with the (at the time) world record catfish-nicknamed “Splash”-caught by angler Cody Mullenix on Lake Texoma. She weighed 121. 5 pounds and lived for awhile at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, TX. I had the incredible opportunity to dive with it to get perspective on what it would be like to encounter a catfish of record proportions underwater.

My conclusion was such a fish seen in murky conditions could easily be construed as “giant”. Divers can exaggerate as much as fishermen.

#If you have a Facebook account or e-mail  address, you have probably seen the photos of anglers in the water with huge  yellow-skinned catfish with a subject line like, “Angler’s Noodle World Record  Flathead” or something like that. Well for starters, “noodling” is the practice of feeling around with your hands and grabbing catfish by the mouth and  wrestling them to shore.

The photos passed around the Internet of anglers with super-sized flatheads are not really flatheads at all. They are Wels catfish from Europe. They look almost exactly like flatheads except for the fins, which grow like a tadpole. And then there is the size. Wels grow up to 10 feet in length and catches of fish over six feet are common. The world record flathead was just over five feet in length.

My wife Lisa and I both caught Wels over seven feet in the Segra River in Spain in 2005 and nearly everyone who sees the photos thinks they are flatheads until we tell them differently.

Listen to hear Chester’s full Wels catfish adventure and more.

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The author with a huge Wels catfish caught and released in Spain’s Segra River in 2005.

Interestingly the guide on our trip told us that divers in that river work on and inspect the dam in shark cages. The Wels (which can grow to over 10 feet in length) are aggressive enough to attack them. I was a bit skeptical of the attacks but then we saw the massive scar across his back of where a Wels bit him attempting to land it.

The next time you see photos of giant catfish supposedly “noodled” look closely at the fins. It is probably a Wels.

And the next time you hear of giant catfish below the dams, realize there is no way they are the size of an economy car.

Chester Moore, Jr.